‘I never thought I’d get another chance’ - Sexton relishing final date

No fine margins in this one as Leinster blow past Toulouse in satisfying display for Cullen

Leo Cullen was satisfied with his side’s performance. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Leo Cullen was satisfied with his side’s performance. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

 

“Very small margins, that’s what we live with in these finals and semi-finals and that’s something that you need to work hard to make sure you are on the right side of,” said Johnny Sexton.

He should know given how many finals and semifinals he has played with Leinster. The semi-final against Toulouse, however, was not one of fine margins. But when Leinster were beaten by Saracens in the 2019 final, those margins did come into play. That, he thought, would be his last taste of European glory.

“Because we’d love to go back…In sport you don’t get a chance, now we’ve got another chance,” said the Leinster captain. “I never thought that I’d get another chance. So, it’s great and we are so driven to put a fifth star on the jersey and every single person in the dressing room, staff, guys who were playing, guys who weren’t playing are really driven. It’s a special environment to be part of.”

Behind the pragmatism and ‘we can still improve’ patter of Sexton and Leo Cullen, it was difficult not to feel the sense of satisfaction from both the captain and coach.

The 40-17 win over last year’s champions, Toulouse, might have given Sexton his unforeseen opportunity but it was also a moment to pause in this season’s campaign before quickly moving on to Marseille in a few weeks.

“I think it was good,” said man of the match Sexton. “We did some really good things. What I was most pleased about was that we didn’t let the mistakes faze us. Going 7-3 down when we were dominating the first few minutes, we didn’t let that get on top of us and we just bounced back. When they scored the try to make it a two-score game again, we bounced back again.”

Referring to Antoine Dupont’s block on Gibson Park’s grubber and his bolt for the line from close to his own 22 was an exercise in blocking out the bad. Leinster’s reaction to the against the run of play try spoke to their attitude.

“How we came back from the bad moments was probably what I was most pleased about,” added Sexton. “We did some good things and built on last week’s performance. We dug in last week, it wasn’t great in terms of how we used the ball but we built on it.

“We need to be better again in the final because at the end of the day, Toulouse played 100 minutes against Munster, had to travel home, had to travel here again. So, we’ve got to take it with a pinch of salt. This isn’t where we wanted to get to. We want to win the final so we’ve achieved nothing yet.”

Leo Cullen was satisfied with his side’s performance. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Leo Cullen was satisfied with his side’s performance. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

From the coach’s point of view Leinster have found themselves to be at a place where things appear to be gelling together. Regardless of any perceived Toulouse fatigue, his team has moved quite a distance from where they were before Christmas.

“It’s a hugely exciting challenge,” said Cullen, who now faces Racing or La Rochelle in the final. “It’s been a season of many twists and turns to get us to this point. If you think back to where we were trying to get a team together to play Montpellier away just before Christmas. We always felt like we were scrambling, A, to qualify and, B, to get a seeding because you can see out there the difference it makes when you’re playing at home in front of a big crowd.

“It’s that energy piece. The supporters played their part and then the team delivered off the back of that, which is delivering a performance with a lot of energy, desire, and hard work and all that good stuff you need to be successful. It’s pleasing to be through to the next round now.”

Another final to build towards with Munster coming first to Dublin next week. But for now the focus is on how Leinster dealt with last year’s European Champions.

“For our guys I thought it was good performance overall,” said Cullen. “Still parts that were weak. There is still room for growth as always but to deliver a big performance in the semi-final it’s pleasing. All it is really it’s great to get on to the next one so we’ll watch with great interest Racing against La Rochelle.”

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